Hell in the Hallway

Several years ago, I participated in my first (and only, so far) immersive theatre experience. Called “Sleep No More,” it involved wandering around the McKittrick Hotel in New York, exploring various floors and rooms where sets had been constructed and actors were occasionally found. As we went up the elevator for the first time and stopped at a floor, the attendant ushered me out and the door closed behind me, leaving me alone and separated from my family members. I was thus left to investigate unexpectedly alone, until we found each other at the end.

Those first moments were unsettling, and the memory of them has returned to me many times. I found myself in a hotel hallway of closed doors, not sure what I was supposed to do. As it turned out, some were locked, some were not. And so began my adventure.

My friend and colleague Nancy Watt recently referred to the time many of us are currently experiencing as “hell in the hallway” and it brought me back to the McKittrick Hotel. It’s an expression to describe that disconcerting period when one door has closed behind you and a new door has not yet opened. When you’re right in the middle of the story.

This week is a sacred one in many religions — Passover, Easter, Holi — and each of those celebrations marks the triumph of good over evil, but only after people have experienced a good amount of evil! And a healthy dose of the unexpected. We don’t get to know the end of the story when we’re in the middle of it.

So here we are in the hallway.

Can you feel the mix of emotions there? Nerves. Frustration. Loneliness. Impatience.

But also, a sense of adventure perhaps? A keener sense of watching for what’s about to happen?

In the ancient Judeo-Christian Scriptures, God says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing…do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19) The passage goes on to describe “pathways in the wilderness” and “rivers in the desert.” We could all use a bit of that!

We can feel impatient for “new things” right now. And simultaneously jittery and exhausted at the prospect of them.

My time in the McKittrick Hotel was unnerving (did I mention we were all given masks to wear? Over our eyes, not noses and mouths). But I felt brave and exhilarated when the exit door opened and I was ushered into outdoor air.

I wonder if we could behave now like we’ll wish we’d behaved when we’re looking at this season in the rearview mirror? Not flawlessly, but perhaps with more anticipation and less dread? Fresh air is coming — take courage.

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